I'm the proud owner of a t-shirt sold to me by the crew of a 2BMW B-52H that visited the local airshow last year. On the back are a B-17, B-29 and B-52 flying in formation (in a Boeing-issue partly-cloudy sky). Above and below are printed: "Flight of the Fortress. Winning America's Wars for 70 Years."No.2Diesel said:To sum up... No one model is on top. In a general sense the world's most important military aircraft is: A United States Bomber.
That's hyperbole, of course. Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen (and maybe even aviators) win wars. Airplanes are just tools to get the job done, just like a bayonet or a bicycle. Boeing is justifiably loved for building good heavy bombers...even when the ugly Consolidated/Convair/General Dynamics product (B-24) actually dropped more tonnage and had better range and payload than the B-17. I'll note that the B-47 and B-50 are left off the list on the shirt because, I guess, they weren't in a shooting war, or Korea doesn't count (not my idea...).
I'd say 'important' is all about definitions. If 'important' means 'did its job exceptionally well for a long time, even when the job kept changing,and the job really mattered to world history' maybe the BUF does deserve to be high on the list. It, and the B-47 before it were built to prevent WWIII. We didn't have WWIII, which qualifies as mission success. Then, after it was mostly replaced by ballistic missiles, we used it to bomb all kinds of interesting places with iron bombs for the next 35 years, which was definitely not part of the original design parameters. Add in fun projects like launching research aircraft, being modified into a cruise missile platform and an anti-ship missile platform, and you have something like the Swiss army knife of airplanes.
The C-47 likewise holds an important place in world history. I'm certainly not going to argue with Eisenhower on this one. To be fair, though, nobody ever demanded that it start doing pallet drops from 50,000 feet 10 years after introduction, which is the equivalent of the role change required to make a B-52 from a high-altitude strategic nuclear bomber into a low-altitude tactical conventional bomber. The C-47, along with its various offspring like the C-119, C-123, C-130, C-17, etc have contributed to a lot of won battles. But they generally stay pretty close to original design parameters--probably hurricane flying and aircrew rescue for the C-130 are the wildest departure from original design. If the Buf is a swiss army knife, the Gooney bird and its offspring are an assortment of claw, ball-peen, and sledge hammers. Profoundly useful tools, but not quite as versatile. And if the Goon qualifies, why not the Ju-52 or any of the assortment of Antonov heavy lifters?
The UH-1 would basically classify as the rotary-wing equivalent of the goon and its kids, with the same intrinsic usefulness in a land-on-a-spot package. You wouldn't go wrong calling it the 'jeep of the sky.' I don't think it ever won a war, but it probably won a number of battles.
If 'important' means 'history would have been significantly different without this airplane, and there were no competitors that might have filled the gap if it hadn't existed.' I'd say #1 would be the Wright model A, followed by the Ju-87 Stuka, P-39/P-63/IL-2 (killed more panzers than anything else in WWII), B-29 (I estimate that the US war with Japan would have gone on until 1950 without it), B-47/B-52 (same design project, same role - were reliable unlike B-36), U-2, and possibly the XB-70 (the greatest bomber that never was - forced the USSR to design a new soup-to-nuts defense against its never-deployed threat that probably brought economic collapse five years sooner).
Why not the SR-71? Mostly because I don't have public evidence of a world-changing event like the Cuban Missile Crisis attributable to its operation. Why not the C-135? Because it's mostly a revamp of technology developed for the B-47/B-52/367-80 project, and the KC-97 did a not-bad job refueling Stratojets and Bufs before it came along using the same flying-boom technology.